Lorries at a truck stop in the UK.

MEPs vote on driving licence changes, with devastating consequences for road safety

  • December 7, 2023

In a contentious vote this morning, adopted with a majority of one, the European Parliament’s transport committee has formally agreed its position on proposals to reform driving licence rules in the European Union.  ETSC says the committee’s position would have devastating consequences for road safety if the amendments agreed today make it into the final legislation.

MEPs backed the European Commission’s requirement that in future, all EU Member States must issue driving licences to 17-year-olds to drive heavy goods vehicles under an accompanied driving scheme.  ETSC says this has the potential to massively expand the number of teenagers driving lorries – and that would have very negative consequences for road safety.  Data from Finland, Germany and Poland clearly show that the youngest lorry drivers (18-19 years) are much more likely to cause a crash.   

On Monday, EU transport ministers set out their position on the rules and said Member States should not be forced into allowing such young drivers to get behind the wheel. 

ETSC says that from a road safety perspective, the minimum age in the EU for lorry drivers should be 21 – that is today’s ‘recommended’ minimum.  The safety advocates see no justification for encouraging teenagers as young as 17 to drive lorries.  

The committee also supported the idea of allowing children aged 16 to drive speed-limited cars, an idea which originated in Finland.  The Commission’s own impact assessment on this idea said : “the measure may pose an additional road safety risk, notably for vulnerable road users”.  

Ellen Townsend, Policy Director at ETSC commented: 

“This legislation was introduced under the banner of a ‘road safety package’ – but frankly if we end up encouraging large numbers of teenagers to drive lorries the consequences will be devastating.  Ahead of the plenary vote in the European Parliament in January, we hope policymakers will take a step back and reconsider the consequences of these changes, before voting on plans that will make our roads more dangerous for everyone. “ 

In a complex vote, covering an array of proposed changes to licensing rules, there was one silver lining for safety.  MEPs backed the concept of an EU-wide zero-tolerance limit for alcohol for novice drivers.  This would see newly-qualified drivers subject to a low 0.2 g/l blood alcohol concentration limit across the European Union.  However, this change would only affect Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark and Finland, because all other EU Member States already set a limit of 0 or 0.2 for novice drivers.  Spain’s limit for this group is 0.3. 

Following a plenary vote in the European Parliament in January, the final shape of the revised EU Driving Licence Directive will need to be negotiated by MEPs, together with EU Transport Ministers and the European Commission.